Since its 1998 inception, the college football Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has become the most hated postseason event in the country – even drawing a 2011 Department of Justice investigation for possible violation of antitrust laws. Relying on a mix of human polls and stat-crunching computers to determine the annual title-game matchup, the series also uses a sequence of convoluted contingencies that decide which top teams get to compete in high-stakes bowl games, an opaque process that inevitably outrages fans and even caused President Obama, in 2008, to argue for a change to the system. Now, change we can believe in has arrived. In 2014, college football is taking a page from the NCAA March Madness playbook and debuting its first-ever postseason bracket: the College Football Playoff.
The playoff will feature the four highest-ranked teams in the country, as selected and seeded by a 13-person selection committee (which includes Condoleezza Rice), in New Year's Day semifinal matches and a title game to follow. Ahead of the transition, we caught up with Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS, who will be in charge of the new playoffs. "Time's change," Hancock told us. "The fans want a bracket."
We asked Hancock to explain why the playoffs were the right decision and what college football fans can expect next season. Here are his responses.
Why four teams?
First of all, we heard the fans. The fans want a bracket, and the fans want more football. And we get that – we got that. On the other hand, we needed to pay attention to three things that were not negotiable in our world. One was, protect the regular season. The second was, protect the bowl tradition and the bowl experience for the student athletes. And the third was, fit this within the academic calendar. We have the best regular season in sports, and we have seen other sports putting all of their eggs in the postseason basket, and we did not want to do that with college football. We wanted to keep those eggs right there in the regular-season basket. Whatever we did with the postseason, we did not want it to detract from the regular season. And obviously, on the second one, so many groups of student athletes get to benefit from the bowl experience.
And there is some threshold when a postseason tournament would begin to detract from the bowls, and no one knows what that threshold is. Lots of people have speculated about it, but no one knows for sure, and our group decided that a small tournament was the best way to ensure that the bowl experience would continue. And then onto the third one, when we were considering future formats, we learned that some schools are in final exams all the way up to December 21 or beyond, and we did not want to have this major event begin during finals, so that really limited the number of weeks that were available for the playoffs. Our group's adherence to those three factors – regular season, bowl experience, and academic calendar – led us to meet what the public wanted: a bracket and more football. We think it's the best of both worlds. It doesn't go too far so that it would bump heads with our three objectives, yet it gives the fans what they've been wanting.
This four-team tournament will be here for 12 years. To change [this] requires the unanimous agreement of all 10 conferences, and there's just no heart for making any such agreement.
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